Awards and decorations of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Armed Forces awards and decorations are primarily the medals, service ribbons, and specific badges which recognize military service and personal accomplishments while a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. Such awards are a means to outwardly display the highlights of a service member's career.

Order of precedence

While each service has its own order of precedence, the following general rules typically apply to all services:

  1. U.S. military personal decorations
  2. U.S. military unit awards[1a][1b]
  3. U.S. non-military decorations and awards in the following order: [2]
    1. Presidential awards (i.e., Presidential Medal of Freedom, Presidential Citizen's Medal)
    2. National Medals (i.e., National Security Medal, National Science Medal, Gold Lifesaving Medal, Silver Lifesaving Medal)
    3. U.S. non-military personal decorations of valor are not authorized
    4. U.S. non-military campaign, expeditionary and service (CE&S) awards are not authorized
    5. U.S. military society decorations and medals – military societies covered by Title 10 US Code, §1123 (in order of receipt; if two or more from same society, then the applicable society precedence listing should be consulted)
      1. (a) A military service member who is a member of a military society originally composed of men who served in an armed force of the United States during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, or the Chinese Relief Expedition of 1900 may wear, on occasions of ceremony, the distinctive badges adopted by that society.
      2. (b) A military service member who is a member of the Army and Navy Union of the United States may wear, on public occasions of ceremony, the distinctive badges adopted by that society.
    6. State decorations and awards are not authorized when on Federal active duty status
    7. Federal agency decorations and awards (in order of receipt; if two or more from same agency, then the applicable agency precedence listing should be consulted)
  4. U.S. non-military unit awards[3]
  5. U.S. military campaign, expeditionary and service medals
    1. Campaign medals
    2. Expeditionary medals
    3. Deployed service medals (e.g., GWOT Expeditionary Medal)
    4. Individual service medals (e.g., GWOT Service Medal; National Defense Service Medal)
  6. U.S. military service and training awards (ribbon-only awards)[4][3a]
  7. U.S. Merchant Marine awards and non-military service awards
  8. Foreign military decorations and awards (in order of receipt; if two or more from the same country, the applicable country precedence listing should be consulted)
    1. Foreign personal decorations (e.g., French Legion of Honour; NATO Meritorious Service Medal)
    2. Foreign military unit awards[1]
    3. Non-U.S. service awards (e.g., United Nations, NATO, etc.)
    4. Foreign military service awards[4]
  9. Marksmanship awards (Air Force,[3a] Navy & Coast Guard)[3b]
  10. Awards of non Title 10USC§1123 U.S. military societies and other organizations6a 6b
  11. State awards of the National Guard (Army & Air Force only)

Notes on branch-specific exceptions to the above:

  • 1a In the Army, unit awards (any type) are worn as a separate grouping, on the right side of the uniform, with and without frames, are worn in the order of precedence from the wearer's right to left.
  • 1b In the Navy, unit award ribbons are only worn on the right side of the uniform, when wearing full medals on the left side. Arrange ribbons in order of precedence in rows from top down, inboard to outboard; this reverses the order of ribbons (as compared to when placed inline with other awards on the left side). For U.S. Navy, the USPHS unit awards are considered (military) unit awards. However, if Navy personnel are also awarded USPHS personal decorations (e.g., USPHS Distinguished Service Medal), then the USPHS order of precedence would apply.
  • 2 Some awards, despite being ribbon-only, are higher in precedence. The Navy & Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbons and the Coast Guard's Commandant's Letter of Commendation Ribbon are included with personal decorations, while two Air Force ribbon-only awards (the Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon & the Air Force Recognition Ribbon) and the Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon are considered in the same category as service medals.
  • 3a Marksmanship Awards in the Air Force are considered training awards. 3b The Army and Marine Corps issue Marksmanship Qualification Badges instead of Marksmanship awards.
  • 4 For Navy, Merchant Marine awards are considered U.S. non-military awards.
  • 5 The obsolete Philippine Commonwealth service awards (Philippine Defense, Liberation, & Independence Medals), when still listed in the order of precedence, come before the United Nations medals (Army & Marine Corps[1]) or before the Merchant Marine awards (Air Force).
  • 6a For Navy, medals and ribbons from other non Title 10USC§1123 military societies, worn in the order earned may be worn after marksmanship awards. Medals, ribbons and badges issued by these societies may be worn only while actually attending meetings or conventions or while participating in parades or other ceremonies as a member of these organizations.
  • 6b For Army, no allowance of Title 10USC§1123 military society medals or ribbons is prescribed, in apparent contravention or oversight of Title10USC§1123 and DoDI 1348.33; however, badges of other civic and quasi-military societies of the United States, and international organizations of a military nature may be worn with restrictions. These may include, for example, the Order of St. Barbara of the Field Artillery Association,or the Order of St. Michael of the Army Aviation Association, among others. The badges are worn only while the wearer is actually attending meetings or functions of such organizations, or on occasions of ceremony. Personnel will not wear these badges to and from such meetings or events.

U.S. military, awards currently issued to service members

Order of precedence

Notes: Precedence of particular awards will vary slightly among the different branches of service. All awards and decorations may be awarded to any service member unless otherwise designated by name or notation.[2]

Ribbon/award name[3]
Personal decorations
Awarded for "gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty"

  Medal of Honor

Service cross medals - Awarded for "extraordinary heroism"

  Distinguished Service Cross (Army)

  Navy Cross

  Air Force Cross

  Coast Guard Cross

Distinguished service medals - Awarded for "distinguished service"

  Defense Distinguished Service Medal

  Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal

  Distinguished Service Medal (U.S. Army)

  Navy Distinguished Service Medal

  Air Force Distinguished Service Medal

  Coast Guard Distinguished Service Medal

Awarded for "gallantry in action"

  Silver Star Medal

Awarded for "superior or exceptionally meritorious service"

  Defense Superior Service Medal

  Legion of Merit

Awarded for "heroism or extraordinary achievement in aerial flight"

  Distinguished Flying Cross

Medals for non-combat heroism

  Soldier's Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Medal

  Airman's Medal

  Coast Guard Medal

Awarded for heroism in combat zone or meritorious service in a war zone

  Bronze Star Medal

Awarded for wounds suffered in combatPH

  Purple Heart

Meritorious Service and Aviation medals

  Defense Meritorious Service Medal

  Meritorious Service Medal

  Air Medal
  Aerial Achievement Medal
Commendation medals

  Joint Service Commendation Medal

  Army Commendation Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal

  Air Force Commendation Medal

  Coast Guard Commendation Medal

Achievement medals

  Joint Service Achievement Medal

  Army Achievement Medal

  Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal

  Air Force Achievement Medal

  Coast Guard Achievement Medal

  Commandant's Letter of Commendation
Combat Action awards

  Navy Combat Action Ribbon

  Air Force Combat Action Medal

  Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon

Also see: Army combat badges

Unit awards
Presidential Unit Citations

  Army Presidential Unit Citation

  Navy and Marine Corps Presidential Unit Citation

  Air Force Presidential Unit Citation

  Coast Guard Presidential Unit Citation

  Joint Meritorious Unit Award

  Army Valorous Unit Award

  Navy Unit Commendation

  Air Force Gallant Unit Citation

  Coast Guard Unit Commendation

Meritorious Unit Commendations

  Army Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Air Force Meritorious Unit Award

  Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation

  Army Superior Unit Award

  Air Force Outstanding Unit Award

  Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation

Efficiency Awards

  Navy "E" Ribbon

  Air Force Organizational Excellence Award

  Coast Guard "E" Ribbon

Service awards
  Prisoner of War Medal
Good conduct medals

  Army Good Conduct Medal

  Navy Good Conduct Medal

  Air Force Good Conduct Medal

  Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal

  Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal

  Combat Readiness Medal (Air Force)
  Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon

  Coast Guard Enlisted Person of the Year Ribbon

  Air Force Recognition Ribbon
Reserve service medals

  Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal

  Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal

  Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal

  Coast Guard Reserve Good Conduct Medal

  Armed Forces Reserve Medal

Expeditionary medals

  Navy Expeditionary Medal

  Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal

Continued on right column
Ribbon/award name[3]
Campaign and service medals (cont.)
General service medals
  National Defense Service Medal
  Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
  Korea Defense Service Medal
  Armed Forces Service Medal
  Humanitarian Service Medal
  Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
Special service medals
  Antarctica Service Medal
  Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal
  Air and Space Campaign Medal
  Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal
  Remote Combat Effects Campaign Medal
Campaign and Expeditionary / Conflict Service Medals
  Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  Afghanistan Campaign Medal
  Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal
  Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Service and training awards
  Army Sea Duty Ribbon

  Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon

  Coast Guard Sea Service Ribbon

  Naval Reserve Sea Service Ribbon

  Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon

  Navy Arctic Service Ribbon

Overseas service ribbons

  Army Overseas Service Ribbon

  Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon

  Coast Guard Overseas Service Ribbon

  Air Force Overseas Short Tour Service Ribbon

  Air Force Overseas Long Tour Service Ribbon

  Army Reserve Overseas Training Ribbon

  Coast Guard Restricted Duty Ribbon

  Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon

Longevity ribbon

  Air Force Longevity Service Award

Recruiting service and training service ribbons

  Navy Recruiting Service Ribbon

  Marine Corps Recruiting Ribbon

  Coast Guard Recruiting Service Ribbon

  Navy Accession Training Service Ribbon

  Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon

  Marine Corps Combat Instructor Ribbon

  Air Force Special Duty Ribbon

Guard ribbons

  Navy Ceremonial Guard Ribbon

  Marine Corps Security Guard Ribbon

Professional development Ribbons

  Army NCO Professional Development Ribbon

  Air Force NCO PME Graduate Ribbon

Basic training honor graduate ribbons

  Navy Basic Military Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

  Air Force Basic Military Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

  Coast Guard Basic Training Honor Graduate Ribbon

Training ribbons

  Army Service Ribbon

  Air Force Training Ribbon

Marksmanship awards[4][5][6]
  Air Force Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Distinguished Marksman Award

  Coast Guard Silver Rifle Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Coast Guard Bronze Rifle Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Navy Expert Rifleman Medal

  Coast Guard Expert Rifleman Medal

  Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Coast Guard Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon


  Coast Guard Distinguished Pistol Shot Award

  Coast Guard Silver Pistol Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Coast Guard Bronze Pistol Excellence-in-Competition Award

  Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal

  Coast Guard Expert Pistol Shot Medal

  Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Coast Guard Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon with Sharpshooter Device

  Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon

  Coast Guard Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon

Note: ^ The precedence of the Purple Heart was immediately before the Good Conduct Medals until changed to its current precedence in 1985.

Military departments

To denote additional achievements or multiple awards of the same decoration, the United States military maintains a number of award devices which are pinned to service ribbons and medals.

National Guard and State Defense Forces

U.S. military, inactive and obsolete awards

U.S. military personnel having received these awards have participated within these areas of combat / conflict during the time these awards were given to U.S. service members. Such awards have since been discontinued or are no longer applicable in terms of receiving these commendations.

Ribbon/award name
Personal decorations
  Certificate of Merit Medal
  Marine Corps Brevet Medal
  Specially Meritorious Service Medal
  Reserve Special Commendation Ribbon
  Army Wound Ribbon
Department of Transportation military awards
  Transportation Distinguished Service Medal
  Secretary of Transportation Outstanding Unit Award
  Coast Guard Bicentennial Unit Commendation
19th and early 20th century Commemorative Medals
  West Indies Naval Campaign Medal (Sampson Medal)
  Battle of Manila Bay Medal (Dewey Medal)
  United States Antarctic Expedition Medal
19th and early 20th century Campaign Medals
  Civil War Campaign Medal
  Indian Campaign Medal
  China Campaign Medal (Army)

  China Relief Expedition Medal (Navy)

Spanish–American War campaign and occupation medals
  Spanish Campaign Medal
  West Indies Campaign Medal
  Spanish War Service Medal
  Army of Cuban Occupation Medal
  Cuban Pacification Medal (Army)

  Cuban Pacification Medal (Navy)

  Army of Puerto Rican Occupation Medal
Philippine–American War campaign medals
  Philippine Campaign Medal
  Philippine Congressional Medal
Ribbon/award name
Navy & Marine Corps expedition medals
  Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1912)
  Haitian Campaign Medal (1915 & 1920-1921)
  Dominican Campaign Medal (1916)
  Nicaraguan Campaign Medal (1926-1930)
  Yangtze Service Medal
World War I and Pre-World War I service medals
  Mexican Service Medal (1911-1917)
  Mexican Border Service Medal
  World War I Victory Medal
  Army of Occupation of Germany Medal
World War II and Pre-World War II service medals
  China Service Medal
  American Defense Service Medal
  Women's Army Corps Service Medal
  American Campaign Medal
  Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
  European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  World War II Victory Medal
Post World War II, Cold War Service, Occupation Medals
  Medal for Humane Action
  Army of Occupation Medal

  Navy Occupation Service Medal

  Korean Service Medal
  Vietnam Service Medal
Middle Eastern & Modern Conflicts / Wars
  Southwest Asia Service Medal
  Kosovo Campaign Medal
  Iraq Campaign Medal
Service and training awards
  Naval Reserve Medal
  Marine Corps Reserve Ribbon
  Fleet Marine Force Ribbon
  Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal
  Air Force Military Training Instructor Ribbon
  Air Force Recruiter Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Marksman and Pistol Shot Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Marksman Ribbon
  Navy Distinguished Pistol Shot Ribbon

Discontinued or proposed

The following decorations were designed for issuance with an approved medal, but were either never officially approved for presentation or were discontinued before a first award could be made.

Ribbon/award name
Personal decorations
  Distinguished Warfare Medal
Combat service decorations
  Combat Recognition Ribbon
Ribbon/award name
General service award
  Cold War Victory Medal

Single service awards

Single service awards were official military decorations created as one time awards to recognize a single event. The first such single service award was issued during the Spanish–American War by the Revenue Cutter Service to honor the actions of the vessel USRC Hudson during the Battle of Cárdenas. The last single service award was issued in 1960 when Congress authorized the awarding of the Four Chaplains' Medal recognizing the Four Chaplains who died together during World War II.[7] There have been no single service awards issued since by the U.S. military, mainly due to the decline and complications of awarding commemorative service medals.

Ribbon/award name
Personal valor decorations
  Four Chaplains' Medal
Personal commemorative decorations
  Cardenas Medal of Honor
  NC-4 Medal
Ribbon/award name
Exploratory commemorative decorations
  Peary Polar Expedition Medal
  Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal
  Second Byrd Antarctic Expedition Medal

Unofficial decorations

Unofficial decorations are those military awards created and issued by local commanders. In most cases, unofficial awards were designed to commemorate a specific battle or engagement of a commander's unit. The most well known unofficial awards were issued during the American Civil War.

Ribbon/award name
Civil War decorations
Kearny Cross
Kearny Medal
Butler Medal
Gillmore Medal
Ribbon/award name
Research decorations
  Walter Reed Medal

After the Civil War, stricter military regulations prohibited local commanders from issuing awards and the practice had fallen into disuse by the 20th century. Even so, the Department of Defense has stated that large numbers of unofficial medals were privately issued to members of the Armed Forces of the United States for many years after the Civil War, mostly to commemorate specific battles, events, or as private veteran memorabilia.[8] One of the more well known is the Walter Reed Medal (recognized today as a Congressional Gold Medal), awarded for exploratory scientific achievement in the field of malaria treatment. While presented as a gold medallion, members of the military were reported to wear a red ribbon on their uniforms to denote the decoration.

Foreign and international awards

Foreign and international decorations are authorized for wear on United States military uniforms by the Department of Defense in accordance with established regulations for the receipt of such awards as outlined by the State Department. In the case of foreign decorations, the awards may be divided into senior service decorations (awarded only to high ranking U.S. officers), heroic decorations for valor, and foreign service decorations.

There are hundreds of foreign and international awards which have been approved for issuance to United States military personnel since World War I, the following being among the more common.

Ribbon/award name
World War I
  French Legion of Honor
  British Order of the Bath
  French Military Medal
  French Croix de guerre
  Belgian Croix de guerre
  Czechoslovak War Cross (1918)
Caribbean & Central America (1920s & 1930s)
  Order of Abdon Calderón (Ecuador)
  Military Merit Medal (Haiti)
  Medal of Merit (Nicaragua)
World War II (Europe)
  French Croix de guerre
  Belgian Croix de guerre
  Luxembourg War Cross
  Czechoslovak War Cross (1945)
  Luxembourg War Cross (Unit Citation)
World War II (Pacific)
  Philippine Defense Medal
  Philippine Liberation Medal
  Philippine Independence Medal
  Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
World War II (Senior Orders)
  Order of Adolphe of Nassau (Luxembourg)
  Order of the Aztec Eagle (Mexico)
  Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom)
  Order of the Crown (Belgium)
  Order of Leopold (Belgium)
  Order of Orange-Nassau (Netherlands)
  Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco)
  Order of Pao Ting (China)
  Order of Virtuti Militari (Poland)
  Order of the White Eagle (Poland)
  Order of the White Eagle (Yugoslavia)
  Order of William (Netherlands)
Korean War - South Korea and the United Nations
  United Nations Service Medal
  Republic of Korea War Service Medal
  Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation
Ribbon/award name
Vietnam War - Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
  RVN Army Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Navy Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Air Force Distinguished Service Order
  RVN Military Merit Medal
  RVN Gallantry Cross (with Palm)
  RVN Air Gallantry Cross
  RVN Navy Gallantry Cross
  RVN Armed Forces Honor Medal
  RVN Civil Actions Medal (1st class)
  RVN Staff Service Medal
  RVN Special Service Medal
  RVN Training Service Medal
  RVN Presidential Unit Citation
  RVN Gallantry Cross Unit Citation with palm and frame
  RVN Civil Actions Medal Unit Citation with palm and frame (1st class)
  RVN Campaign Medal with 1960- device
Persian Gulf War
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Kuwait)
  Kuwait Liberation Medal (Saudi Arabia)
International Awards (20th Century)
  United Nations Medal
  Multinational Force and Observers Medal
  Inter-American Defense Board Medal
  NATO Medal (Yugoslavia)
  NATO Medal (Kosovo)
  NATO Medal (Non-Article 5)
Senior Military Awards (21st Century)
  Aeronautical Merit Cross (Peru)
  Cross of Honor (Germany)
  Khalifiyyeh Order of Bahrain
  Military Merit Order (United Arab Emirates)
  Order of the Crown of Thailand
  Order of the Date Palm (Iraq)
  Order of May (Argentina)
  Order of Merit (Germany)
  Order of Merit of the Italian Republic
  Order of National Security Merit (Korea)
  Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)
  Order of the Southern Cross (Brazil)

During the First and Second World Wars, the Croix de Guerre medals of France and Belgium, as well as the French Military Medal and Luxembourg War Cross, were further issued as unit citation cords, known as Fourragère. Service members could receive both the individual award and the unit cord; in the case of the later, the unit citation could either be worn temporarily while a member of the unit or permanently if the service member was present during the actual battle which warranted the unit citation. A further unit citation cord of the Order of William of the Netherlands was also issued during World War II, and was far more commonly known as the "Orange Lanyard".

As of 2002, South Korea has again issued the Korean Presidential Unit Citation to certain units of the United States Marine Corps, thus placing this previously obsolete foreign award back on the active order of precedence for U.S. decorations. Apart from this one decoration, most 21st century foreign military awards are reserved for only the most senior flag and general officers and then only presented as "end of tour" decorations upon transfer from a major command.

See also

To display devices on Wikipedia pages, use Template:Ribbon devices.


  1. Marine uniform regulations section 5103, subsection 12, page 5-9
  2. "NUMBER 1348.33, Volume 3" (PDF). Defense Technical Information Center. United States Department of Defense. 31 October 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  3. Retrieved 24 February 2008.
  4. OPNAVINST 3591.1F, SMALL ARMS TRAINING AND QUALIFICATION Archived 22 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Chief of Naval Operations, dated 12 August 2009, last accessed 5 May 2013
  5. "COMDTINST M1650.25D, Medals and Awards Manual, U.S. Coast Guard, dated May 2008, last accessed 5 May 2013" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
  6. U.S. Coast Guard Uniform Regulations, dated March 2012, last accessed 5 May 2013
  7. "The Institute of Heraldry – Army Chaplain Medal of Valor". Archived from the original on 1 February 2013. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
  8. Price, James S. (2011). The Battle of New Market Heights: freedom Will Be Theirs by the Sword. Charleston, SC: The History Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-60949-038-6.

Further reading

  • Foster, Frank C. (2002). A complete guide to all United States military medals, 1939 to present. Fountain Inn, S.C.: MOA Press. ISBN 1-884-45218-3. OCLC 54755134.
  • Robles, Philip K. (1971). United States military medals and ribbons. Rutland, VT: C. E. Tuttle. ISBN 0-804-80048-0. OCLC 199721.

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